Jan Steen: The Feast of the Epiphany, the king drinks (circa 1662)
The replica you see here is a small part of the oil painting on canvas by Jan Steen (1626-1679) painted by him in 1662 that shows the typical household of Jan Steen during the Feast of the Epiphany.
The original is signed in the middle of a stool and dated ‘JSteen / 1662’.
On Steen’s ‘Feast of the Epiphany: The King Drinks’ a print with owl and drawn monkey hangs above the head of the ‘drinking king’ designated by fate. The owl that cannot see anything during the day seems to symbolize the foolishness of man, we learn from chief curator Quentin Buvelot in the catalogue: ‘While the chained ape at that time symbolized the man who was voluntarily trapped in sin and had no desire to free himself from that situation.
The Feast of the Epiphany was celebrated in the Netherlands in the 17th century by both Catholics and Protestants. According to old custom, one of the partygoers was proclaimed ‘king’. Either because he found a bean in a specially baked cake, or by drawing names. The highlight was the moment the ‘king’ took the first sip. But often the other partygoers were already brassing.
Even those who are not at the table enjoy themselves to the fullest. Here on the right in the foreground (on the larger original on the left) a girl has suspended her dress to jump over three burning candles – symbols of the three kings. A little boy watches to see if she follows the rules. In the background, the girl has opened the door for a group of singing figures.
These are the star singers, musicians who roamed the streets with paper crowns adorned with the traditional star, which according to the Bible had led the three kings to Christ.
- Purchased by George IV in 1814 and belonging to the British Royal Collection
- Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016